COVID-19 makes cycling for transportation an even more important option

During the COVID-19 crisis, the need for our communities to provide safe, accessible routes for people of all ages and abilities to cycle to work, school, and other destinations has not gone away. For the roughly half of all car trips that are under 5km, cycling continues to be one of the most viable alternatives for getting us from A to B, helping to beat the automobile dependency forced on us by the last 75 years of sprawling suburban development. Why is automobile dependency so bad? Simply put, it is destructive to our environment, our economies, our health, and our social life.

COVID has, in fact, shown us that active transportation like cycling and walking have been crowded out by the immense space and expense we have devoted to moving and storing cars in our communities. Now that we need to social distance, “crowding out” takes on a whole new meaning, with walking and cycling routes too full for proper social distancing, and public transit carrying its own risks. It is an immense disappointment that while cities all over North America are temporarily removing traffic lanes in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, Newmarket and York Region have taken no such action. We are grateful, of course, that the already-planned curb-separated bike lanes on Yonge St. are set to open very soon, and we continue to call on the Region of York to expand lanes like these to all arterial roads, the ones that are the most dangerous for cyclists.

This takes us to the of crowding on the mixed-use trails in Newmarket. We have often argued that the trails are not the best option for safe cycling infrastructure. A network of safe on-street or curb-separated lanes is what is needed, with the trails providing an optional link in that network as well as a pleasant route for recreational cycling. Nonetheless, it is still important that cyclists who choose to use the trails respect social distancing rules, slowing down and alerting other trail users (remember: a bell is mandatory in Ontario) in order to give everyone enough time to pass with adequate space. The same holds even truer for sidewalks, where adult-sized bikes are prohibited but which remain a safer alternative for some riders.

Looking forward to a post-crisis world, it will be more important than ever for our communities to create opportunities for safe, environmentally friendly alternatives to automobile transportation. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to get out onto their bikes, not just for exercise, but for essential errands as well. Just make sure you respect other road and trail users while you do.

Ride on!

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